Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Molto lento e tranquillo
Movement 3: Vivace
The first movement is a conventional sonata-form. The gentle opening (recalling the spirit of Beethoven’s fourth concerto) burgeons into an orchestral passage epitomizing the serenity of the pastoral A flat of the movement; woodwind arabesques then reveal the still centre, a ‘tiny vision’ on muted viola, muted horns and celesta. Tippett had used a similar ensemble in The Midsummer Marriage to evoke the timeless presences that move beyond the surface realities of life. He achieves a comparable effect here, mysterious yet familiar. The spell is broken when the soloist ushers in a group of themes and motives marking the ‘second subject’. The vision unexpectedly returns at the peak of the development just before the recapitulation, and it does so again in the middle of the solo cadenza, unpredictable but reassuring reminders that the vision can never be lost. The cadenza, unusually, is placed before the recapitulation of the ‘second subject’ and after an interpolated second development section. So, despite being conventional, the design of the movement is continually being loosened up.
The slow movement has affinities with Beethoven’s fourth concerto, even if the outcome is new. The serenity of the first movement is replaced by a different vision, dense and disturbing, a kind of tournament between faceless close canons from pairs of wind instruments and manic cascades from the piano, each pursuing dogged courses until the tension eases and is released in a series of exchanges between packed high strings and the now ruminative soloist, who calms things down. It is an extraordinary conception, suggesting some programmatic basis, though Tippett never revealed one.
The finale springs to life with a key change, from B to E flat, implying now the influence of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto. There are indeed other echoes of Beethoven’s finale but the joy and high spirits are Tippett’s own. The movement begins with a long section for orchestra alone (a foil to the almost continuous sound of the piano in the previous movement), shaped in three parts—a wealth of little motives, a central striding theme with a touch of blues harmony at the end, a codetta reintroducing the celesta. The soloist enters dramatically with a theme of his own. This turns out to be the first episode in a scheme in which the orchestral section is the rondo theme, now divided into its three parts with episodes between. The second episode is for piano and orchestra, the third for piano and the last an enchanting duet between piano and celesta. All that remains is a return of the rondo complete and a short coda carrying the music to a jubilant C major.
from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007